Where are they all coming from? By which I mean: 3D movies derived from missing-presumed-extinct pop cultural ephemera. The Smurfs haven't been on anybody's radar since Father Abraham breathed his last, but here's Sony, trying to revive a lapsed copyright with a plot bringing Peyo's cheery blue creations kicking and screaming into the modern world. To paraphrase Alicia Witt in Cybill, if the Muppets can take Manhattan, why can't the Smurfs? This particular variant of the Smurf genus arrives computer-generated in a live-action Central Park, having escaped the clutches of evil wizard nemesis Gargamel; it goes on to take a pretty familiar tour.
Interacting with some very blue screens are a handful of familiar TV faces, reminding us one of the few advantages for movies in the recent upgrade in our small-screen entertainments is that it allows modestly budgeted ventures such as this to cast inexpensive non-stars whom avid viewers are likely to recognise nevertheless. Sometime Doogie Howser and Harold and Kumar stooge Neil Patrick Harris is a PR executive intended as a sympathetic sop to the branding consultants who got the film greenlit in the first place; Glee's Jayma Mays his pregnant fiancee, using the presence of the Smurfs to persuade her man that hearing the patter of tiny feet around the house is entirely A Good Thing.
If The Smurfs in 3D holds any appeal whatsoever beyond the target audience (which isn't a given), it lies in Harris's generally sharp timing (his reactions to "The Smurf Song" prompt a chuckle), Mays' general air of loveliness - precisely that of a bush baby who farts cupcakes - and Azaria's game pantomime villainry as Gargamel. Too much of the rest plumps for frantic over funny: just as the yoof TV of the late 1980s destroyed my attention span and left me constitutionally unable to read certain Dostoyevsky novels, so to the editing in modern kiddie filler like The Smurfs may be such that an entire generation will come to be left without the concentration needed to read the pizza leaflets they and their stoner buddies will eventually have to secure sustenance from.
Under the direction of Raja Gosnell (Home Alone 3, Scooby-Doo 2), it comes and goes, the modicum of self-awareness displayed by a trip to leading NYC toyshop F.A.O. Schwarz almost instantly buried by cynical product placement for confectionery and console games. It may just be a little better than the Alvin and the Chipmunks movies it seeks to emulate, and is at least true to the phenomenon that inspired it: just as the first Transformers movie fulfilled part of its remit by being clanky, mechanical and of zero interest to non-adolescents, so The Smurfs is plasticky and destined to be forgotten about within a matter of years, if not months, weeks or even days. It'll sell a few toys in the meantime, if that's any measure of success.
The Smurfs in 3D opens in cinemas nationwide today.